Nobody wants to give to ‘a charity’

publication date: Apr 3, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

“In charities, emotions are everything! Nobody wants to give to ‘a charity.’ They want to make a difference.”

That’s a key marketing principle from British multi-channel marketing maestro Stephen Pidgeon. He returned to it again and again as he spoke during The Extraordinary Donor Journey 2013, presented in Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto by Global Philanthropic.

Fundraisers can draw on a world of emotions in their appeals, Pidgeon explains. Just for starters, there’s laughter, connection, anger, concern, sadness and sympathy. We can use emotions, he counsels, to campaigns that connect to one individual at a time, not hundreds of thousands. If he has a mantra, it can be found in the words of neurologist Donald Caine:

The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action and reason leads to conclusions.

And of course, we fundraisers want action – the action of giving.

The good, bad and ugly

Decades of direct marketing through print and digital media have shown Pidgeon the good, the bad and the ugly of fundraising communications. He brought plenty of examples to ensure that conference attendees got the point. Consider these:

  • The European environmental organization that sent donors a four-page letter on climate change. Yes, the envelope contained a separate piece of paper with a picture of a polar bear adrift on an ice floe. But the letter didn’t mention the bears’ plight or refer to the picture in any way.
  • The British charity working with homeless and under-housed elders. They highlighted a photo of a weary-looking senior, suitcase in each hand, trudging down a dark street, with the caption “75 is no age to be leaving home.” That powerful package continued to draw donations for 17 years.
  • A kidney research charity that sent a test package with a brief account of achievements in kidney research, accompanied by a predictable photo of serious, white-shirted males (presumably researchers) at work. It drew little response.
  • That same charity tested a letter of apology from “Katie’s kidney” to “little Katie” presenting research insights in terms of “why I let you down.” It was mailed in 2008, the year the UK “went broke” in Pidgeon’s colourful terms. Yet the letter achieved a 2.1% response rate from new donors – an outstanding result for a donor acquisition campaign.

Sizzle, not steak

Behind the successful and unsuccessful appeals is the basic principle of commercial sales – sell the benefits, not the features. What you do, he contends, is of no interest to anyone except yourself. But what you achieve by doing it can motivate even the stoniest of hearts. What you achieve is your fundraising proposition – and when you can state it with emotion and urgency, Pidgeon passionately believes you’ll have a winning appeal, whether in the mail or online.

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